York students on pins and needles

In a story Nov. 4 about a possible strike at York, The Toronto Sun noted that York’s 3,200 teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants had voted 86 per cent in favour of a walkout if the two sides could not reach an agreement by the deadline, now just days away.

The two sides have made little progress on issues from job security for contract faculty to wage increases for members, said CUPE 3903 chief negotiator Graham Potts.

"The most important thing right now is job security. We have faculty who have worked more than 15 years and continue to reapply every four to eight months," said Potts. The union is trying to bring back special renewable contracts, which were stripped away in 2000. "This would give staff who have worked more than 15 years to have five years of permanent work without renewal," he added.

The unionized staff staged a 78-day strike in 2000 that cost the University about $5 million and frustrated thousands of students who had to make up lost time in the classroom.

University spokesperson Robert Drummond, dean of York’s Faculty of Arts, said the renewable contracts were taken away because the idea wasn’t feasible. "There were high salaries for people holding appointments for teaching and research but they were mostly teaching," said Drummond, who says the University is trying to find a deal for long-serving contract faculty.

"This sucks for everyone," psychology student Shawna Jacques, 24, said. "I don’t want to stay in school longer than I signed up for." She expected to graduate this June. "I understand they have the right to strike if their demands aren’t met but they have to keep in mind the 50,000 undergrads who are affected."

  • Robert Drummond, dean of York’s Faculty of Arts and spokesperson for the University’s negotiating team, spoke about the labour dispute on CFTO-TV Nov. 3. Information about the dispute was also broadcast on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” program, CP24-TV and Global TV Nov. 4.

Universities facing school of hard knocks

The stock market implosion that has rattled investors and undermined economies around the world is also shaking the foundations of the ivory tower, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 4.

Recent stock market drops mean universities with defined benefit pension plans, as well as those with so-called hybrid pension plans, which shift more investment risk to employees but still guarantee a minimum payout, could face deficits that they will have to cover over time.

Gary Brewer, vice-president of finance & administration at York University, said the University’s pension plan, which stood at about $1.3 billion at the beginning of the fiscal year, had dropped by about 10 per cent by the end of September. He estimated the fund lost another five per cent last month.

Brewer said York is preparing for funding pressures. "Early days yet, but it’s always better to anticipate, and that’s the state that we’re in right now," he said.

Another uncertainty is provincial funding. Several university officials said they had not received any signals from Queen’s Park apart from the province’s Oct. 22 economic statement, which projected a $500 million deficit for the 2008-2009 fiscal year. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan warned Ontario "will need the help of our transfer partners to ensure that we are able to protect the quality of our public services as we manage our finances in a prudent and responsible fashion."

Also unknown is the effect a prolonged downturn could have on enrolment, which generates revenue through tuition and other fees. Tightening family budgets may force some students to attend university closer to home, or put off or forgo postsecondary education.

  • Gary Brewer also spoke about the impact of the financial crisis on York University’s endowment and pension funds on Vancouver’s CKWX Radio Nov. 3. Information about losses to the University’s endowment and pension funds was also reported on A-Channel TV in London and on Toronto’s CFRB Radio

Speaker has concerns about Osgoode conference on Israel and Palestine

In recent months, I have been invited to participate in two conferences, one put on by the Ontario Bar Association (OBA) and the other by York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, wrote Ed Morgan, law professor at the University of Toronto and the immediate past president of Canadian Jewish Congress, in the National Post Nov. 4.

The Osgoode conference, which [will pose] the question "Israel/Palestine: One State or Two?" showed that my faith in rational dialogue and academic debate may have been misguided, wrote Morgan.

I harbour no illusions about the actual debate. The idea of "two states" embraces Jewish and Palestinian self-determination and is at the heart of any potential peace process, while the notion of "one state" is deployed by Israel’s enemies as a rhetorical tactic to undermine the Jewish state. But I told myself that we should at least engage the debate rather than shut it down. With a view to being one of the few pro-Zionist members of a background advisory committee, I decided to fight the fight from the inside, trying to ensure that the conference would be one of engagement rather than polemics.

For a conference such as Osgoode’s to succeed, one needs speakers who genuinely grapple with the issues of political and legal theory and do so out of good faith, not cynicism. If the conference turns into a sophisticated exploration of issues of nationality and democracy, it will have been a worthwhile endeavour to engage from within. But if the event continues the trend of giving boycotters a platform for anti-Israel grandstanding, I will not be there.

Event will showcase green initiatives

The Green Renewal Initiative Perth (GRIP) is a Stratford Rotary Club project funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and community partners, wrote the Stratford Beacon Herald Nov. 3.

Its mandate includes providing support to community groups. When the initiative was asked to host guests from the American University in Armenia, project consultant and York graduate student Kerry McManus said, she welcomed the opportunity to highlight environment protection and energy conservation work happening in the Stratford area.

McManus said the university visitors from Armenia are being hosted in Canada by York University. When a professor of hers at York heard of the programs in existence in the Stratford area, he suggested the visit here.

The York University program is aimed at initiating intellectual exchange between Canadian and Armenian scientists in the field of environmental education with particular emphasis on development of methods for involving youth in the environmental field, wrote the Herald.

LLM program launched for foreign law students

Akunna Nwagha believes the world will be her oyster after she finishes the inaugural year of Osgoode Hall Law School’s LLM in business for international students, wrote the Law Times, Oct. 20. Nwagha hails from Nigeria where she has been a practising solicitor since graduating law studies there in 2002. She is one of 17 students attending the new program that was introduced to recognize the global reach of the practice of law.

Although other schools offer similar post-graduate programs, Nwagha says she chose the Osgoode program because it offers an optional internship for up to one year at the end of the 12 months of studies. “I thought that’d be a very good opportunity to get to see what things actually are like in practice,” she says.

Elaine Bright, assistant director, academic programs at Osgoode Professional Development, says as far as she knows, the school is the only program of its kind to offer an internship. “It’s both an advantage to the law firms and the students,” says Bright.

Nwagha has not decided precisely what she will do with her LLM. She wants to be a top business lawyer but also facilitate the creation of wealth for developing countries like Nigeria. She says for example, there’s need for infrastructure in Nigeria that is increasingly being funded by international investment funds. Nwagha says she will remain open to opportunities until she finishes her LLM studies.

“Dean Patrick Monahan told us the expectation of faculty at Osgoode is, when students leave, they become leaders in whatever field they choose to work in,” she says. “I intend to not only live up to those expectations, I intend to exceed them,” Nwagha adds.

Osgoode Intellectual Property Program to help India

Osgoode Hall Law School at York University has started the Intellectual Property Law & Technology Program which will help India and other emerging economies in developing strategies to preserve, protect and promote their intellectual property (IP), wrote the Rajasthan Herald (Jaipur, India) Oct. 27.

The program will not only help in development of a new generation of lawyers for IPR management, but also support the other emerging economies and India’s demand for a just and fair “Global Intellectual Property Regime”, wrote the Herald.

Osgoode Professor Giuseppina D’Agostino, founder and director of the program, was of the view that “our strategic goal is ultimately to promote the growth of a more balanced IP system around the world as suggested by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Beijing on Friday so that the fruits of human creativity and invention can be shared in a fair manner."

D’Agostino said that patents, copyrights, trademarks and other related rights merit more careful study in the age of globalization as both countries face similar challenges. “There is no black-and-white solution. It is simply not helpful to make absolutist statements like IP is bad, IP is old or, conversely, IP is good or we need more IP,” she said. A more nuanced understanding of the issues can only be possible when different interest groups spread over five continents have a credible and independent forum to articulate their diverse voices.

  • The front-page article in the Herald also featured a story about IP Osgoode program director Giuseppina D’Agostino.

On air

  • Ananya Mukherjee-Reed, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about the US presidential election and its impact on South Asia, on OMNI-TV Nov. 3.
  • Perry Sadorsky, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about how federal equalization payments function, on AM640 Radio Nov. 3.
  • Harriet Lewis, York University secretary & general counsel, and David Noble, professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about changes to York’s academic calendar on CBC Radio’s “Ontario Today” Nov. 3.